Food Artisans: Monks Meats

Food Artisans

A different New York artisan every week.


[Photograph: Stephanie Klose]

According to a possibly apocryphal story, the vegan meat substitute known as seitan was discovered by Buddhist monks in seventh-century China after their wheat dough was soaked in water and all the starch washed out of it, leaving behind only the insoluble protein wheat gluten. Regardless of its origins, seitan is popular with vegetarians and vegans for its meaty texture and adaptable flavor.

Rebecca Lopez-Howes and her boyfriend, Chris Kim, both vegetarians, started making their own seitan because they were frequently disappointed by what they were able to buy in stores, often finding the texture to be unpleasantly stringy or spongy. The ideal texture of the wheat-gluten meat substitute, says Lopez-Howes, is "a little firm, more like a portobello mushroom. It should be a little dense."

When she and Kim began experimenting with making their own, she realized that technique, both in the kneading and the cooking, was to blame for the texture they didn't like. "If you boil it too long, you get too much air into it," she explains. And just like with bread dough, kneading develops the gluten; well-developed gluten leads to meaty seitan.

Once they nailed down the proper texture, Lopez-Howes and Kim developed four flavors that would facilitate the product's use in a variety of dishes and cuisines: Chipotle Adobo, Ginger Kombu, Asparagus Rosemary (which meat eaters tell them tastes similar to pork), and Original, which is cooked in dashi. Lopez-Howes says their seitan can be prepared almost any way meat can be: in fajitas, in pasta, on pizza, crumbled like sausage, or sliced cold into a salad.

Monks Meat also offers weekly specials like seitan in chimichurri sauce or prepared like bulgogi, for example. The next step for her, Lopez-Howes says, is to bottle those sauces to sell along with—or instead of—the seitan.

Visit the Monks Meat site to sign up for their weekly specials email, order directly, or learn more about the developing retail availability.